Summary: A meditation on the promise of Christ’s return and the hope that we draw from contemplating this truth at the Lord’s Table.
UNTIL HE COMES
“As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
For almost two thousand years, followers of Christ, the Risen Son of God, have gathered in assembly to instruct one another in righteousness, to build one another in the Faith, and to worship the Lord Jesus as the Living Saviour of all who believe. Some gathered in secret, their very lives at risk because they worshipped Jesus the Lord. Some gathered openly, rejoicing in the freedom God had given. Some conducted stately rituals scripted centuries before, while others shared in forums that emphasised spontaneity. All alike united as enclaves of Heaven, communities of faith where Christ is remembered and where His Word is taught so that members of the congregation may be instructed in righteousness. All have looked forward to His return, just as He promised.
Across cultural divides, whenever Christians unite, a regular act of worship is the observance of the Lord’s Table. This is the communal meal that was instituted by the Lord Jesus Himself. Looking back to a conflict within the Church of God at Corinth, we witness a meal that had degenerated into a personal observance. Because it had ceased to be a communal meal, Paul was forced to confront the attitude of the Corinthian Christians. Addressing their self-centred error, he seized the opportunity to remind them of what the Meal was to represent. Of course, we are enriched through their error since we now have this fuller teaching of God’s intention.
As we focus on worshipping the Living Son of God today, I invite you to contemplate the words that the Apostle wrote to the Corinthian Christians which are found in 1 CORINTHIANS 11:26. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
THE MEAL IS DESIGNED TO BE AN ONGOING OBSERVANCE — “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” You know very well that the Meal is to be observed on a continuing basis, but it is good to explore precisely what it means for us to observe the Meal on a continuing basis and to explore as well some of the ramifications that are associated with that truth.
The churches of our Lord Jesus Christ have been entrusted with two ordinances—ordinances and not sacraments. It is necessary that we distinguish between the two concepts because considerable confusion persists among the professed people of God. To speak of a sacrament connotes to many people that participating in the act confers grace to the participant. Tacitly, the concept of a sacrament imputes powers to the act itself. So, in the sacramental view, the participant is bettered, or at least benefited, through participating in the act.
In contradistinction to this is the concept of an ordinance, which implicitly denies conferring grace through participation in the act. An ordinance is a tradition that pictures divine truth. Whatever benefit may be conferred is the result of the participants attitude and approach to the act and not the result of participating in the act per se. It is for this reason that the Apostle will conclude his instruction on the Lord’s Table with the admonition for those participating to examine themselves and to judge themselves [1 CORINTHIANS 11:28, 31].
Christ gave to the churches two ordinances—one that is to be observed initially by all who wish to follow Christ as Lord and one that is to observed in assembly on a regular basis. The first ordinance is, of course, baptism. Baptism is the act of identification with Jesus, as the one confessing the Faith pictures the truths concerning Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This is the import of the Apostle’s words to the Roman Christians.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God” [ROMANS 6:3-10].